PSESD Early Head Start at the Washington Corrections Center for Women

  • Pathway to Change Area: Student Measures of Progress
  • Outcome from PSESD Pathway to Change: A racially just and humanizing school system; all can succeed and achieve
  • Indicator Name: Children meeting school readiness standards (Preschool Teaching Strategies GOLD)
  • Indicator Description: The percent of children meeting developmental expectations in all six domains of the TSG assessment

Supporting Learning from the Beginning

When mothers are incarcerated, their children still benefit from connection and learning. Such is the case in this partnership, the only program in the nation that provides mothers and their children with this crucial connection. The program is assessed using the Ounce Online Assessment for infants and toddlers. This data rolls up to align with the Teaching Strategies GOLD data collected across the region and that aligns with the preschool teaching strategies and practices that prepare children for kindergarten and beyond.

The Early Head Start program is a key component to meeting the goals of the Residential Parenting Program at WCCW. A strong program component is staff engagement and collective focus on the bond between mother and child, realizing that this early connection can set a solid foundation for school readiness and be a key indicator for early success in life. 

Through PSESD staff called Family Educators, mothers are counseled and guided to achieve new heights upon their return to society. Additionally, a group called the Parents Advisory Council advocates for resources in early learning — and is a strong voice of support for moms, some of which have completed the program at WCCW and are living positive, productive lives with their children and families.

Challenges With the Judicial System 

“Although WCCW is the only program in the nation with a partnership of this kind,” Nelly Mbajah, PSESD Early Learning Program Service Director, said, “it [the judicial system] is still a system that affects women of color, who are disproportionately represented in corrections. Also, there are challenges to ensure mothers and their defense attorneys are even aware that a program like this exists, along with widely sharing information with judges and prosecutors who once aware of the program, can make recommendations at sentencing.” More communication about the program can make all the difference in the life of a pregnant woman entering or returning to the judicial system, particularly for those meeting program requirements and wanting to take positive steps.

WCCW and PSESD work jointly in an attempt to holistically address the person; however, stark differences exist between how people are referred to and how that reference makes them feel. Being addressed as a number with a prior offense and release date, as opposed to that of a mother, living with her child and directly applying learnings with sustainable program support, makes a substantial difference in rebuilding self pride and confidence. Natasha Roberts, Early Headstart Manager at WCCW shared, “staff [Family Educators and Infant Toddler Teachers] do a great job at making the center warm, open and comfortable. That is important because it is one less thing they have to worry about,” in the overall culture that they are living in. One mom in the program shared,

“They made it really fun when I was pregnant. They had new moms meetings, groups where we’d come over and do arts and crafts and get to know each other and get to know the center. I don’t know, they just made it a very homey feeling here. To this day, this is somewhere you can come and just relax and feel like you’re not where we are. Because it gets pretty stressful over there, and just knowing that people are going to treat you like people over here is the best thing ever.”

For further growth and development, staff planned racial equity sessions for parents, which were led by PSESD’s Equity in Education Department. The three-part series consisted of concepts and practices on how to talk to children about race. Investments in both mother and child help meet the goal of racially just and humanizing systems, along with meeting school readiness standards. Another mom shared, “It’s nice to have all the information that Early Head Start and all the workshops give us, to know what our child’s gonna go through or what he’s been going through. And then having all that support from the moms and stuff is great too.”

Looking Ahead

Both WCCW and PSESD come together to ensure that not only are mothers taught new skills, but also that their social, emotional and health needs are met. The partnership evolved even more with the COVID-19 pandemic, when both WCCW and Family Educators at PSESD began working with recent parolees to provide regular check-ins, information and planning activities while isolating. “We adopted a home visiting format because COVID-19 created an opportunity to take a deeper look at our structure and how services have been provided to the families at WCCW.” Both Mbajah and Roberts agree that for program fidelity, staff will continue to work on expanding programming and support formerly incarcerated moms as they transition back to society.

Image of Moms group at WCCW
Image of WCCW Baby with Moms in background
Image of WCCW mom and son